Ribbon Cutting Ceremony held for the $30,000 Multi-sensory room grant secured by PUSD Education Foundation

OneAZ Community Foundation $30K gift to PUSD praised as catalyst for multi-sensory programs

By Nanci Hutson
Originally Published: August 9, 2023
The Daily Courier

Sensational! OneAZ Community Foundation $30K gift to PUSD praised as catalyst for multi-sensory programs

Mile High Middle School special education teacher Mikaela Ball sits in the enclosed hammock chair in the multi-sensory room at her school. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

A student with an anxiety-related stomachache over a pending test.

A student depressed over the loss of a beloved pet.

A student disrupting a lesson because he or she needs a way to release some pent-up energy.

A student who just needs a little quiet time away from the daily hubbub on their school campus.

All these student scenarios — and many more — are why Prescott Unified School educators were so grateful Wednesday, Aug. 9 to celebrate the official opening of three multi-sensory programs on three school campuses: brand new, “state-of-the-art” classroom and garden at Mile High Middle School; and expansions at both Taylor Hicks Elementary School and the Granite Mountain Upper Elementary School.

Thanks to a $30,000 grant arranged through the PUSD Education Foundation with the OneAZ Community Foundation; the sweat equity of district Farm-to-School Coordinator Sara Reveille and a cadre of summer volunteers; a close-to $6,000 district Facilities Department investment and a fencing donation from the American Fence Company, PUSD’s special education and general education students at all three of these schools will be able to have a safe place to simply “decompress.”

Each of these specially-designed classroom spaces meant to soothe and ignite a students’ sense of sight, sound, smell and touch — maybe even taste — is full of bright colors and carpet squares and varying textures items on the floors. They have a mix of fluorescent, twinkly and black lights; bubble tubes filled with plastic fish; assorted bouncing balance and agility equipment; twinkle-light decorated tent spaces; and weighted blankets made of stuffed plastic frogs. The rooms are equipped with such things as enclosed hammocks, Hula Hoops; coloring and game tables; bins filled with interlocking-colored blocks and story books; even small trampolines and large bean bag squares.

A long view of the new, multi-sensory classroom at Mile High Middle School. PUSD Superintendent Clark Tenney stands at far side of the room. A grand opening for this newest, multi-sensory room attended by about 20 dignitaries from PUSD, OneAZ, and the PUSD Education Foundation was celebrated on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

At Mile High, the new program incorporates an adjoining sensory garden where students can plant flowers or edible produce they can harvest and use in life-skill cooking lessons. The garden also includes a trickling water fountain adjacent to a shaded, outdoor classroom complete with movable benches and a wind chime. In the Mile High classroom, a student is likely to catch a whiff of lavender and in the center of the room is something Principal Ashley Tetreault describes as the “squid,” a circular, lighted apparatus of long, silky strands where a student can stand or sit and sift their fingers through the strands or sit in a cradle-like plastic seat.

Some of the multi-sensory rooms are equipped so that students can listen to soothing music.

The PUSD Education Foundation previously donated $5,600 for the district’s very first multi-sensory room to benefit the district’s Discovery Gardens preschool program at its main campus shared with the district offices in Washington School on East Gurley Street. Foundation Executive Director Paul Kirchgraber said sharing that project more than a year ago at a local Rotary Club meeting attended by a local One AZ Credit Union official Christy Manning inspired her to promote obtaining a grant to expand that program to other schools.

On tours of all three campuses, with a ribbon-cutting at Mile High, OneAZ Credit Union Foundation Board Chairman Sam Wheeler and fellow members and officials were clearly impressed. Wheeler even accepted the invitation to balance on one of the “turtle” bouncing beams in the Taylor Hicks sensory room.

“Wow! This is really something; astounding,” Wheeler said just before cutting the ribbon amid about 20 people representing his credit union and community foundation, the PUSD Education Foundation and district faculty and staff, including teachers who are already using the multi-sensory rooms with their students.

OneAZ Community Foundation Board Chairman Sam Wheeler stands atop a turtle balance beam device in the expanded, multi-sensory room at Taylor Hicks Elementary School made possible through his foundation’s $30,000 gift to the PUSD school district. (Nanci Hutson/Courier)

Wheeler said his foundation is dedicated to giving back to the communities they serve. Since 2016, he said, the foundation has donated about $1 million, one-third of that has been in Prescott.

“We want to make an impact,” Wheeler declared, noting that these multi-sensory rooms are a “perfect fit” for what the foundation wants to accomplish as far as building sustainable educational initiatives.

Kirchgraber was excited to be able to showcase how this generous gift is benefitting so many PUSD students — from the just getting started children to young adolescents finding their path.

Assistant Superintendent Mardi Read praised what has been a collaborative effort to install these, educator-supervised, multi-sensory rooms as yet another, creative way to help children succeed in their academic environment.

Even for just a short break, Read said, these are comforting spaces where any child can spend some “down” or “up” time with a teacher, counselor or another staff member so they can then return to their classroom tasks. She noted these rooms can also help reinforce positive coping skills for students both in and out of the school setting.

Mile High special education teacher Mikaela Ball said she is already seeing the difference this room and the garden is making for her students: it’s bringing them an extra dose of joy.

“It’s incredible,” she declared.


Reach Nanci Hutson by email at nhutson@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.